2009 Safari
New Salem - Friday - by Mark

AKA "The Survivor Edition of Gilligan’s Island"
By Mark Schumacher


People sign up for New Salem because it is a 2 rated trail and they expect to have a good trail ride with a few minor obstacles to overcome.  At signup a nice young lady asked if we were an easy trail, she was worried because of the earlier rain and she had three young children with her, one being six months old.  I told her that it should be, that we were going to skip the hard parts, the first two big hills with the mud holes, and that we intended to stay on the easy part of the trail.  As trail boss Doug Watret would later say, she signed up for a three hour cruise and became a castaway on Gilligan’s Island.
 Thirteen Jeeps left for the trail on Thursday morning with Don and Doug leading, our new trail guide Justin and his wife Meagan riding near the front and Chris and I riding drag.    Everyone expected wet conditions and when we found mud at the bottom of one of the first hills no one was surprised.  At the same time we were winching eleven Jeeps out of the mud hole we were also winching most of the Jeeps up the next hill.  A new Rubicon lost a front tire in the mud hole when a stump went through a sidewall.  Even after this tough start we still couldn’t have guessed about the carnage that lay ahead. 

After another hour of relatively uneventful trail riding on wet ground it was time for lunch and Doug led us to the meadow area with the waterfall.  The weather was pretty good and people were sitting on blankets and chairs enjoying their lunch.  After lunch Doug asked me to escort Billy off of the trail and then catch up with the group in the Walnut Grove area.
After getting Billy out I hurried back to the meadow expecting to find everyone gone.  Instead I found almost everyone was still there, trying to get up the wet incline out of the meadow.  Although it wasn’t raining the grassy meadow had turned into a muddy, slippery mess with water coming up out of the ground after a Jeep drove over it.  A four door Rubicon with a Hemi made it up with a good line and a lot of tire spin.  I pulled a stock Wrangler up and then we winched three or four more Jeeps up the hill.
Once we were all together Doug led us into the Walnut Grove.  This loop is about the easiest part of New Salem, it’s got a lot of very tight turns in the timber and the hills are pretty easy.  Due to this it also doesn’t have any exits, once you start in you stay on the loop until the end.  The ground was wet and slippery, it had started raining and we were doing pretty good then Justin got on the radio telling us that the National Weather Service was issuing warnings for the New Salem area, telling people to exit their vehicles and seek immediate shelter.  As we exited the timber for a short run beside a field it started to rain hard, the wind picked up, and just as we were starting to enter the timber again it started to hail and then we saw the wall cloud ahead of us.  Although we didn’t know it at the time, the next day I was told that there was a tornado on the ground about a mile from us at that time.  We also didn’t know that the rain had just started and it was going to continue for the next three to four hours.
We found a small hill that we winched on, then we got into a spot between a couple of trees that wasn’t really steep but which was off camber, wet and slippery.  Once again we started winching and when it was my turn Don told me that I could make it, just do what he said.  I’m sure that he gave me great advice and I just didn’t follow directions very well.  We ended up off camber, sideways on the trail and leaning up against a tree.  It was the first test of my rock sliders and the new Gen Rite quarter panels with the tube fenders that Mark at Overkill made for me.  With the tree as a pivot point the winch pulled us around the tree, the sliders and fenders kept the tree away from the soft top and there wasn’t any damaged to the Jeep, a bright spot in what was going to be a long day.  After we got everyone past this spot Doug told everyone that we only had one hill to go. 

The last hill turned out to be the challenge of the day.  First you drove down hill into a ravine, made a steep creek crossing, climb uphill while making a left turn and then you started winching.  Doug winched himself to the top and then set his Jeep up so that he could help those with winches get to the top.  While his battery lasted he would extend his cable and attach it to the extended cable of the Jeep trying to go up.  Both Jeeps would then start winching and when the pulled Jeep reached Doug they again pulled the winch cable and finished pulling the Jeep to the top of the hill.  This was a pretty slow process, it continued to rain hard, and every Jeep that made it up the hill made it worse for the next one.  In addition, we had a couple of Jeeps that didn’t have CB’s or winches and that made it really hard to coordinate the long pull.  Justin made many trips up and down the hill, pulling cable and coordinating the pull with those that did not have a CB.  When a Jeep didn’t have a winch we strapped it to the Jeep ahead of it and pulled both together.

There wasn’t enough room at the bottom of the hill for everyone to wait their turn to winch so three of us sat at the top of the opposite hill waiting.  Once the process started I knew it was going to take a little while so I called the American Legion and told them that we should be there in about an hour and a half, 7:30 PM or so and that we were all pretty hungry.  An hour later we hadn’t moved and I made another call telling them to expect us about 8:30, and then I received a call at 8:30 and told them it would be 9:30.  When there was room for us to sit at the bottom of the hill the three of us moved and sat watching it rain and the creek rise.  The creek is normally about three to six inches deep and it was running at about two feet while we sat there.  After we crossed the creek we watched the driver of the Jeep ahead of ours pull his cable, carrying it to the top of the hill, struggling in several inches of mud while water rolled down the hill in the ruts that were left by the previous Jeeps.   We then saw a red object rolling down the hill and realized it was Justin and that he had slipped in the mud. 

When is was our turn we found that Doug was now using his cable to hold a tree saver and clevis in place for us to hook to for the first of our four pulls to get to the top.  I was aired down to eight pounds, had my lockers engaged, and each time I tried to move my Jeep up the hill I didn’t even take the tension off of the winch cable.  Once at the top we only had to get OD from Wisconsin up and I thought that we were home free. 

Then Doug told me that the four door Rubicon had gotten out and was headed back to Pittsfield but that there were several Jeeps stuck on our easy exit road.  He stated that the slight off camber caused everyone to slide down into the fencing and trees.  Doug stated that we were now going to leave by driving along and through the field, asking me if I could lead.  He told me to try to stay out of the field and that two of the Jeeps with stock tires would need to be pulled all of the way out.  It took another forty minutes to get the Jeeps off of the exit road and back to our spot so that we could start the drive out. 
Everything went pretty well as we drove out making our own trail between the field and the timber until one of the Jeeps being towed came off of the strap and got into the field.  I lead everyone out and once Doug got the Jeep back in tow he met us at the road.  It took over four hours to get up the last hill and to our starting point and it was 10:50 PM by the time we put our wheels on the gravel road heading to Pittsfield.  Our three hour tour had turned into thirteen hours with at least ten of those hours spent winching.
You might wonder why I sat waiting for my turn to winch up the hill.  I get around pretty well with a new left knee but my right knee doesn’t always work very well.  I managed to hurt it on the first winch that we made and I wasn’t much help the rest of the day.  Doug, Don, Justin and Chris all worked their axx’x off all day and they carried my load.  It could have been worse but we had a really great group of people on our trail that day.  As the conditions deteriorated everyone pinched in to help and everyone worked really hard.  The group was so great that we didn’t hear one complaint from anyone and everyone actually seemed to be in pretty good spirits when we finally got to our starting point.
I’d like to thank everyone that rode with us that day.  This includes Phil, Robert, Bill, John, TL & Yvette, Mike & Beth, Cliff, Matt, Leila, OD and all of the children that were with us.  If I forgot anyone here it’s because their name wasn’t on the sign in list.  I also have to thank Doug for being such a great leader, he was calm and reassuring, and although he was concerned he kept smiling all day.  Don was on his feet all day in the mud and bad weather and it was obvious where Doug had gotten his leadership skills from.  Justin really got broke in as a new trail guide, kept a smile on his face, and he really earned his orange shirt.  Chris always works on the trail and she pulled a lot of cable that day.  She finally figured out how to operate our hydraulic winch levers and after doing so for the third or fourth time and then standing there watching the slowest winch in the group she told me that we were buying an electric winch.
This article has turned out to be almost as long as the day being described and I have to apologize for that but I have a couple of more thoughts and comments.  By the last count we had one Jeep ruin a tire, one quarter panels dented, one front fender with damage, a four door hit the top of one of its rear doors damaging the door and destroying the plastic surround and later it lost a mirror.  We also had an injury when frayed winch cable went through the leather gloves of one of the guys while pulling on the last hill.  Seeing that we spent thirteen hours on the trail, ten hours winching with four or more hours of that in the dark, standing in mud over our ankles in the driving rain I guess that we had a good and safe day.
We are a family orientated club and during our open events we allow some Jeeps to participate even though they may not have all of the equipment that they should have.  As New Salem is a level 2 trail we don’t require winches but we were really lucky that only three Jeeps did not have winches.  A real problem presented itself when two of the Jeeps did not have CB radios.  On a normal day this could be an inconvenience but it became a safety issue on this run.  While winching the lack of communication meant that someone was going up and down the slippery hill to provide instructions and to coordinate the winching process.  This is an issue that we need to think about and a rule that we need to enforce in the future.
With the pictures that I’ve sent there is one taken on the second day showing a creek crossing downstream from the one that we were in at the last hill.  It shows that the water had gone down and the grass laid over about two feet above the water level.  The other photos show the starting conditions on the trail, I didn’t get any pictures of the bad weather and night work.

Created: 28 May 2009